Which kind of power?

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22 February 2020

Words such as power, authority and authoritativeness are frequently used by women as they consider or discuss the social, administrative and political tasks they perform, or aspire to perform. That women should claim power, authority and authoritativeness on equal terms with men is a matter of justice. There are those who could argue that there have been many women in the past who have held positions of leadership or influenced men in their exercise of male power. The examples of female leadership, however, were mostly occasional and often instrumental to transmitting dynastic power; women’s influence on male power, on the other hand, occurred mainly in the private sphere or transformed itself into a courageous and often painful prophetic witnessing of their faith, for example within the Church. Only during the last century have women seen their independence grow and only recently have they been appointed to top positions in political and governmental institutions as well as in other public and private companies.These women have become, as it were. symbols of female power. However, it will still take a long time and require much effort before women are in a position not to invoke, or resort to, special quotas in applying for a job. And the fact that a woman is entrusted with a high office in public or ecclesiastical government will probably hit the headlines for still a long time to come.

But are equal opportunities and women’s rights themselves the ultimate goal? Or, are they not rather a necessary step along the road to reforming the dominant way of exerting power? Women are at a crossroads with regard to power. They may choose not to network, not to compete on equal terms with men and to give in to compromises and abuses, and become in so doing, their own worst enemies. Or they may instead take the opportunity to mark a discontinuity with the ways men have commonly exerted their power. This applies also to women in the Church, for they can choose between being content to enter into governing roles as established over time within the ecclesiastical institutions, or to commit themselves, together with all men of good will, to reconsider and revisit power afresh, and reconnect it with what it really means to have true responsibility to serve in the Church on behalf and in the name of the divine authority. The world expects from the Church that God’s faithful bear witness to the Gospel, according to which what matters are not key and high positions often associated with idolatrous institutions, but rather the promotion of the common and personal good. This can only be done by caring for others and in a way which leads to freedom rather than subjugation. The true power of women today lies in witnessing exactly this.

Francesca Bugliani Knox